Officials optimistic about co-op negotiations

While year-long discussions between Associated Students, the Graduate Student Association and University Centers concerning the leases of four campus co-ops remain unresolved, university administrators are optimistic about current negotiations.

“Significant progress has been made and the negotiating teams have reached tentative agreement on many issues,” Campus Ombudswoman Mediator Judith Bruner stated in an official statement approved by negotiating parties. “Pending resolution on a few remaining items, all negotiating teams expect to recommend approval of the agreement to their constituents. The negotiations … continue in good faith.”

The dispute began when administrators questioned the expiration dates of the documents that govern the co-ops’ lease agreement in spring 2004. Originally, Associated Students and the GSA leased the space from University Centers under a Master Space Agreement. The four co-ops— — Groundwork Books, the Che Cafe, the Food Co-op, and the General Store — then sublet the space from Associated Students and the GSA under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding.

Administrators at University Centers refused to renew the Master Space Agreement after it expired April 2004, calling for negotiations to modify its terms. An October 2004 date was set for the month-to-month lease to expire, unless substantial progress was made toward drafting a new agreement. However, the co-ops have since continued to rent the space on that month-to-month basis until agreements are finalized.

Administrators and co-op officials also clashed over the expiration of the MOU. While the co-ops’ attorney, Lottie Cohen, had argued that the MOU had no legal expiration date, Director of Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Nicholas Aguilar stated in a letter analyzing the MOU that the document had expired in May 1998 and was never renewed.

Administrators at University Centers then refused to renew the MOU, requiring that the document first include proposed changes in the lease and operating policies.

The negotiations have continued since then, with the most recent meeting occurring in June 2005, at which point the participants agreed to reconvene this quarter to finalize the agreements. Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary R. Ratcliff said that the co-ops are continuing to operate and will be open in the fall.

Ratcliff also said that a new branch of the Food Co-op, which will be dubbed the Food Co-op Satellite, is in construction and will be completed in the fall. The satellite branch will be located on the upper level of Price Center, next to Shogun.

The satellite is currently being governed under its own lease agreement with University Centers, but will have a finalized agreement once negotiations are resolved, Ratcliff said. The new agreement will feature “separate agreements for each location with similar language,” but more specific terms for each co-op, according to Ratcliff.

Thurgood Marshall College Senior Senator Kate Pillon, who serves as A.S. representative and student negotiator, said that incorporating separate agreements would be an effective plan. Under the expired contracts, the co-ops were regarded as one entity. Thus if one co-op breached contract, all four would have been affected, she said.

“The basic format should stay the same, but having separate agreements will allow the co-ops to be considered individually, which is a positive thing for the co-ops as well,” Pillon said.

The negotiations have made strides since last year, according to Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. Despite the departure of key parties to past discussions, including former A.S. President Jenn Pae, the outlook is positive, she said.

“In the beginning, negotiations were in disarray, with huge friction between all parties,” Fox said. “But now, we’ve managed to put them into rooms with a mediator, and we’re on the verge of closing the issue. Yes, we wish that we had come to a resolution before some negotiators had to leave the school, but the co-ops operating this year [without an agreement in place] is an indication of trust that we can move past that.”

Negotiating parties will reconvene in the following weeks to resolve remaining points and work on issues of structure and language in the new lease agreements. Student negotiators also expressed certainty that the co-op issue is nearing a solution.

“We just have a few more crucial issues to resolve, but I feel confident that everyone will be happy with the final agreements,” Pillon said.

Readers can contact Erika Cervantes at [email protected].